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Shakman v. Clerk of Circuit Court of Cook County

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 15, 2019

MICHAEL L. SHAKMAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CLERK OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIDNEY I. SCHENKIER MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In 1972, the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County (the "Clerk of Court's Office") entered into a Consent Decree (the "1972 Consent Decree") that prohibited the Clerk of Court's Office from, among other things, "conditioning, basing or knowingly prejudicing or affecting any term or aspect of governmental employment, with respect to one who is at the time already a governmental employee, upon or because of any political reason or factor." Thereafter, in 1983, the Court entered judgment (the "1983 Judgment Order") prohibiting the Clerk of Court's Office from "conditioning, basing, or affecting of the hiring of Governmental Employees (other than for Exempt Positions) upon or because of any political reason or factor...." Shakman v. Democratic Org. of Cook County, 569 F.Supp. 177, 179 (N.D. 111. 1983). Together, the 1972 Consent Decree and the 1983 Judgment Order bar the Clerk of Court's Office from using political considerations in any employment decision that does not involve exempt positions.

         In August 2018, the Court entered a supplemental relief order ("SRO") for the Clerk of Court's Office (doc. # 5945). The purpose of the SRO is to ensure that the Clerk of Court's Office is in substantial compliance with the requirement that it forego the impermissible use of political considerations. If the Court finds that the Clerk of Court's Office has satisfied the requirements set for in the SRO for substantial compliance, the Court will terminate the SRO as well as the 1972 Consent Decree and the 1983 Judgment Order as they apply to the Clerk of Court's Office (SRO at ¶ III.F.1, 8).

         To implement the SRO, the Court appointed a Special Master, referred to as the Clerk of Court's Compliance Administrator (the "CCCA"). The Court vested the CCCA with a broad range of powers and responsibilities, including auditing prior employment decisions, investigating to uncover evidence of any unlawful political discrimination and recommending measures to address any that may have occurred. To assist the CCCA in performing these functions the Clerk of Court's Office is required to cooperate with the CCCA by, among other things, "providing reasonable access to all relevant non-privileged documents and to current employees at all levels" (SRO at ¶ I.E). The CCCA also plays an important role in the substantial compliance determination, as she is required to advise the Court as to whether "the Clerk of Court's Office is or is not in Substantial Compliance with the [1972 Consent Decree and the 1983 Judgment Order] and the SRO" (SRO at ¶ III.F.3). In order for the CCCA to effectively discharge those Court-mandated functions, the SRO requires that the CCCA "actively monitor the Clerk of Court's Office's compliance with the [1972 Consent Decree, the 1983 Judgment Order], the SRO, and the New Employment Plan ..." (SRO at ¶ III.D).

         That monitoring process is the subject of the dispute now before the Court. Approximately 1, 100 of the 1, 400 employees of the Clerk of Court's Office are subject to the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") with Teamsters Local 700 (the "Union"). The CCCA has sought to attend (that is, to monitor) grievance meetings for the Clerk of Court's Office employees who are members of the Union. The Union has objected to the presence of the CCCA or her staff at those grievance meetings; in an April 14, 2019 letter, the Union "demand[ed] that the Clerk cease and desist any and all information sharing and authorizing third party attendance in Union matters until such time as the Union's objections may be heard and a resolution is rendered." That led to plaintiffs filing the motion for declaratory relief that is now before the Court (doc. #6385: Pls.' Motion). In their motion, plaintiffs seek an order "declaring that the [CCCA] has the authority to monitor all employment actions involving employees covered by the CBA, including authority to attend and monitor grievance proceedings, to ensure that the . . . employment decisions are not affected by unlawful political reasons or factors" (Pls.' Motion at 9). The motion is fully briefed (see doc. # 6418, Union Resp.; doc. # 6425, Pls.' Reply). For the reasons that follow, we grant plaintiffs' motion.[1]

         I.

         At the threshold, it is plain that the provisions of the SRO that we have cited above authorize the CCCA to attend and to monitor grievance meetings. The Union does not contend otherwise and could not reasonably do so. Rather, the Union's opposition is premised on the notion that the Court lacked authority to enter an order authorizing its CCCA to monitor grievance meetings and that, in any event, there is no need for such monitoring. The Union's opposition to the CCCA carrying out those functions misconceives the court orders that apply to the Clerk of Court's Office and the intersection of those orders with the CBA.

         II.

         Throughout its memorandum, the Union treats the SRO and related orders as focused solely on hiring (see, e.g., Union Resp. at 10) (asserting that "the origin of this litigation is tied only to matters involving hiring and by its own admission does not extend any further than to attempt to eliminate political considerations in hiring"). From this premise, the Union appears to suggest that the SRO does not authorize the CCCA to attend grievance meetings because they pertain only to existing employees.

         This argument disregards the 1972 Consent Decree, which specifically bars the impermissible use of political considerations in connection with decisions involving existing employees of the Clerk of Court's Office. Building on both the 1972 Consent Decree and the 1983 Judgment Order, the class that falls within the scope of the SRO includes both "applicants for employment with the Clerk of Court's Office and... employees of the Clerk of Court's Office" (SRO at 2). For this reason, the SRO requires the Clerk of Court's Office to develop an employment plan that covers not just hiring, but also "promotion, transfer, assignment of overtime, discipline and discharge;" requires the CCCA to monitor the Clerk of Court's Office performance under that plan; and requires the Clerk of Court's Office to show the effective implementation of that plan in order to demonstrate substantial compliance (SRO ¶¶ II.C, III.C and III.F.8(1)).

         To the extent that the Union suggests that the 1972 Consent Decree provides an inadequate source of authority for the SRO provisions governing existing employees, the Union is mistaken. "Once entered, a consent decree may be enforced." Frew ex rel Frew v. Hawkins, 540 U.S. 431, 440 (2004). In sum, there is ample authority for the SRO provisions prohibiting the use of impermissible political considerations in decisions involving existing employees, and empowering the CCCA - the Court's "eyes and ears," Shabnan v. Democratic Org. of Cook Cty., 69 C 2145, 2017 WL 4639700, at *3 (N.D. 111. Oct 16, 2017) - to monitor those employment actions to determine whether that prohibition is being honored.

         III.

         The Union argues that allowing the presence of the CCCA would violate the CBA, because only parties to that agreement may be present at a grievance meeting. In a related vein, the Union argues that the presence of the CCCA would violate the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act ("IPLRA"), 5 ILCS 315. We disagree. The Union has pointed to nothing in the CBA or the IPLRA that bars non-parties from attending a grievance meeting.

         Nor is the CCCA's monitoring of grievance meetings a term or condition of employment over which the Clerk of Court's Office was required to bargain about with the Union prior to entry of the SRO. The presence of the CCCA at the grievance meetings does not touch upon matters of wages, hours or terms and conditions of employment. Contrary to the Union's suggestion, the CCCA is not affiliated with the plaintiffs or with the Clerk of Court's Office. The CCCA's presence is authorized under the SRO not because the CCCA will assist any party, but rather because she will assist the Court in assessing the Clerk of Court's Office compliance with the SRO and progress toward substantial compliance. As a result, the role of the CCCA ...


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